It is often remarked upon how Chelsea’s conveyor belt of managers under Roman Abramovich goes against the common consensus in football that stability is a prerequisite for success on the pitch.
Chelsea chop and change and keep winning trophies. And those triumphs, achieved by an array of different managers with varying ideas and approaches, might just be informing the think tank plotting England’s route to glory in Euro 2020.
Gareth Southgate’s right-hand man, Steve Holland, worked alongside six managers in six years at Chelsea from 2011 until 2017 and saw the club win the lot – two Premier Leagues, the League Cup, the FA Cup, the Champions League and the Europa League. He left to focus on his work with the national team alongside Southgate, with whom he has partnered since their days with the Under 21s.
That experience is vital for England’s set-up now. Southgate rightly continues to earn plaudits as England advance through the tournament but his record as a manager is on the inexperienced side.
He last took charge of a club match at Middlesbrough in 2009, in the Championship. While experience isn’t everything, it certainly helps and it is worth noting that in the other semi-final of the Euros, Champions League and LaLiga winner Luis Enrique pits his Spain side against Italy, coached by Serie A and Premier League champion Roberto Mancini. That know-how counts and it’s one of many assets Holland brings to England’s set-up.
It’s something Southgate himself freely stated to Sportsmail only last month. ‘In my view, Steve Holland is a legend,’ he said. ‘He’s the most experienced English coach in the country, right through from developing young players to winning the Champions League and Premier League with some of the best managers in the world.’
Steve Holland (left), Gareth Southgate’s No 2, is a vital part of the England set-up
Southgate and Holland have worked together from the England Under 21 fold up to the seniors
Holland experienced how to win the biggest trophies during his time as a Chelsea assistant
So Holland is clearly a valuable addition to the England coaching fold, and it’s something that has been recognised across the game. Speaking ahead of Euro 2020, Cesc Fabregas said Holland could be a hidden gem in England’s bid for glory.
‘Holland’s meticulous coaching brain is England’s secret weapon,’ Fabregas wrote in his Telegraph column.
‘Assistant managers can be undervalued when it comes to handing out praise to people for the performances and results of a team, but, in Steve Holland, England have one of the very best.
‘Steve and I worked together for three years and won two Premier League titles together at Chelsea, and I can tell you that he was very important to our success.
‘He will listen to you and talk a lot of sense, but I think the thing that makes players really respect Steve is he is not the kind of assistant who will just listen to the manager and do whatever he says. He has his own personality and his own opinion, and that is really important.’
Holland takes a moment to celebrate with Raheem Sterling after the 4-0 win against Ukraine
Sportsmail reported how Holland challenged Jose Mourinho (left) over his tactical plans before the Portuguese parted ways with Chelsea for the second time back in 2015
That latter point is something that has won Holland respect from none other than Abramovich himself. After all, you don’t stay at Chelsea for six years unless you’re doing something that the Russian deems invaluable.
Back in December 2015 after Chelsea parted ways with Mourinho for the second time, Sportsmail reported how Holland had stood up to the Portuguese manager in the final weeks of his reign at the club and questioned his tactical plans when most of his other staff were considered yes men. It earned kudos form Abramovich.
In his time at Chelsea, Holland worked alongside Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, Rafa Benitez, Mourinho, Guus Hiddink and Antonio Conte. It is the latter whose tactical set-up has seeped its way into England’s work at international tournaments.
Conte’s 3-5-2 formation led Chelsea to the Premier League title in 2016 and banked on wing-backs Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso joining the attack and turning three into five.
It’s something England used to great effect in the 2-0 win over Germany last week, with Luke Shaw and Kieran Trippier nullifying the German threat on the flanks and getting forward when doable. Shaw assisted Sterling’s opener.
That 3-5-2 system has only been used once so far in the Euros by England, but it was also the set-up at the World Cup in 2018 and the thought process of full-backs enhancing the attack still remains in place when they revert to the 4-2-3-1 formation.
Holland has taken note of the success Antonio Conte (left) has by using attacking full-backs
Holland (second right) made his step up into the Chelsea coaching set-up when Andre Villas-Boas took over as manager at Stamford Bridge in 2011
Holland (second left) celebrates Chelsea’s Europa League triumph in 2013 under Rafa Benitez
In a fascinating tactical breakdown given to The Coaches Voice in 2020, Holland identified how the most successful Premier League teams would attack with a front five.
He explained how sometimes with England, they’d achieve that by having two ‘high No 8s’ in a 4-3-3 or with full-backs bombing on and the midfield pivot dropping back into defence. It’s the versatility that Holland signalled as key before the competition started.
‘Flexibility is required at the highest level,’ Holland said to The Times. ‘Manchester City play 4-3-3 normally but they defend 4-4-2 and they attack, pretty much, 2-3-5.
‘Chelsea play 3-4-3 but they defend in a back four sometimes with one of the wing backs pressing in midfield. In March, we played 4-3-3 and in the autumn we played 3-4-3 and we were happy with both. Players are well drilled.’
Holland and Southgate have long been aware of the opportunity that has fallen to them this week with a home crowd backing them in the final two games. It is not until now, Holland has said, that he believes England will notice the difference.
In his own words, Holland said England will feel the boost of home support from the semis
Fan support and the work of Holland and Southgate sets England up well for a huge week
Speaking to Sportsmail in June, he said: ‘If we can’t handle the pressure of having more of our fans than the opposition, it’s unlikely we are going to win.
‘Spain, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark and Russia will also have group games at home. Where our advantage would kick in is if we are lucky enough and good enough to get to the semi-final. But we have work to do before that.’
That hard work has since been done. If Holland is right then the fans at Wembley this week, alongside the astute planning of Southgate and his team, could well be enough to get England over the line.